Michael Avolio's sci-fi war story romance webcomic
Michael Avolio

I recently watched two Terrence Malick movies with a couple friends of mine. We first revisited The Thin Red Line, Malick's philosophical 1998 World War II film. It was extremely poetic, like the Malick films that follow it. It could be argued that The Thin Red Line is the first of his current period, or sort of a transition piece from the two films that precede it, which while slower and more detail-oriented still lean more heavily towards traditional narrative styles than the rest of his filmography.

The magnitude of The Thin Red Line is impressive. Some of the battle sequences brought to mind Orson Welles' classic Shakespeare adaptation Chimes at Midnight (finally in print in the United States, thanks to the kings among men at The Criterion Collection, long may they reign), which a friend pointed out has been a huge influence on how battle scenes have been filmed and edited since its release in 1966 — more energy and chaos, the camera spiraling and rushing through the action, sharp montage telling the story more than long-sustained cuts.

The Thin Red Line was more emotionally powerful than I remembered. Malick's humanism and spiritualism gives him an astonishing understanding and generosity. The grunt soldiers, the brave and the fearful, the overbearing leader, even the enemy... Malick humanizes them all.

Watching the extended version (his preferred cut) of Malick's next film, 2005's The New World, for the first time, I was struck again by the poetic way he uses gorgeous images, naturalistic sounds, and gently swelling music, as well as his technique of revealing characters' contemplative thoughts through soft-spoken voice-over. As with the Malick films that follow it, there's very little dialogue. And his use of elliptical montage, taken even further in 2011's The Tree of Life (perhaps his greatest film to date), is particularly strong in The New World.

Actor Q'orianka Kilcher gives a remarkably nuanced performance in the difficult role of Pocahontas, a complex central character who's easily relatable yet still mysterious. I appreciated seeing that Pocahontas' "New World" was England, and it was particularly effective that we the audience don't see England in the movie until she does; we're therefore able to share in her awe at the sights of things like the busy street market and the ornate stained glass windows. I still have yet to see Malick's newest, Knight of Cups, but barring that I find The New World's Pocahontas to be the most compelling character in Malick's body of work. (Of course, in The Tree of Life, he's focused on ideas, moments, moods, and images more than things like character or narrative.)

Malick is probably our greatest living philosopher-poet-painter in cinema. One of my friends pointed out that the best way to enjoy his work is to allow yourself to set aside your expectations of traditional narrative filmmaking (some of the mixed reviews The New World received must surely be due to it being a movie low on plot and heavy on poetry). Malick went twenty years between his second and third films, so I'm excited that Malick's producing at a much faster rate these days. While it didn't awe me the way Tree of Life did, I enjoyed To the Wonder, and the Knight of Cups Blu-ray is coming up soon in my Netflix queue... And as one of my friends pointed out this weekend, it's encouraging that work as unique as Malick's is able to find funding and an audience in today's blockbuster-obsessed society.


I've been enjoying Andy Summers and Robert Fripp's 1982's collaboration I Advance Masked. It's similar in some ways to Fripp's solo soundscapes and his collaborations with Brian Eno — more mood-based than melodic. I love the mercurial sound Fripp gets out of his guitar — full, beautiful, sometimes angular and sometimes smooth — and his interplay with Summers is organic and stimulating. I particularly enjoy the simple "Girl on a Swing", the gentle "In the Cloud Forest", and the lyrical "Landlake/Aquarelle", but the whole record is worth hearing, and parts of it are especially lovely to listen to when in need of relaxation (not that I know anything about ever feeling stressed, he said through gritted teeth).


My science fiction webcomic Flesh Machine continues at, with new pages every Tuesday. You can read the entire story thus far at my site, and you can encourage others to do likewise. If you'd like a premise to share, you can tell them:

"Lucy Olmos leaves her home planet for the first time during intergalactic war."

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and you can support my comics work on a monthly basis at Patreon.

Thanks for reading! Till next week...

Michael Avolio

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"The art in Flesh Machine is deceptively simple, with a hint of Mike Mignola influence, but this comic is one cool science fiction story for older readers. Once you start reading Flesh Machine, it is easy to get warped right into this mysterious and provocative universe."
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